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Interest Groups Past and Present: The “Mischiefs of Faction”. A Nation of Interests The founders of the Republic referred to what are present day interest groups as Factions. James Madison foresaw “factions” as an inevitable development, with tendency toward “instability and injustice.”

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Interest Groups Past and Present: The “Mischiefs of Faction”

  • A Nation of Interests
  • The founders of the Republic referred to what are present day interest groups as Factions.
  • James Madison foresaw “factions” as an inevitable development, with tendency toward “instability and injustice.”
  • Interest groups are also sometimes called “special interests.”
  • Some Americans identify with groups distinguished by race, gender, ethnicity, age, occupation, or sexual orientation.
  • Others form groups based on common issues or interests, i.e. gun control, tax reduction, education. Such groups or associations that seek to influence government in some way are called Interest Groups.

Interest Groups Past and Present: The “Mischiefs of Faction”

  • Social Movements – a large body of people who are interested in a common issue, idea, or concern that is of continuing significance and who are willing to take action to support or oppose it.
  • Interest groups sometimes begin as movements.
  • Social movements represent groups that has felt unrepresented by government.
  • How do they differ?
  • Interest groups usually work within the framework of government and employ tactics such as lobbying to achieve their goals.
  • Movements seek to change attitudes or institutions, not just policies.

Types of Interest Groups

  • Economic Interest Groups
    • Business – large corporations, including multinationals
    • Trade and Other Associations – businesses with similar interests join together as associations which are as diverse as the product and services they provide.
    • Labor – workers’ associations with shared interests, ranging from professional standards to wage and working conditions. Examples: American Farm Bureau Federation, United Farm Workers Association, AFL-CIO.
      • Open shops – union membership cannot required
      • Closed shops – union membership can be required
      • Free riders – individual not in the union but who benefits from union activity.

Types of Interest Groups (continued)

  • Economic Interest Groups (continued)
    • Professional Associations –professionalassociations with shared interests. Examples: American Medical Association, American Bar Association, American Federation of Teachers, American Realtors Assoc.
  • Ideological or Single-Issue Interest Groups
  • Public Interest Groups (PIRGs)
    • Seek to influence policy on Capitol Hill and in several state legislatures on environmental issues, safe energy, and consumer protection.
  • Foreign Policy Interest Groups
  • Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs )

Types of Interest Groups (continued)

  • Government & Government Employee Interest Groups
  • Governments are themselves important interest groups.
  • Government employees form a large and well-organized group.
  • Public employees are increasingly important to organized labor because they constitute the fastest-growing unions.
  • Other Interest Groups
  • Veteran’s groups
  • Nationality groups
  • Religious organizations
  • Environmental groups

Types of Interest Groups: Ideological or Single-Interest Groups

The Christian Coalition distributes voter guides before elections as one means of influencing politics


AARP: The Nation’s Most Powerful Interest Group

The National Rifle Association

  • 36 million members
  • Offers a wide array of material benefits like insurance and magazines
  • One of the most influential lobbying groups in D.C.

Types of Interest Groups: Public Interest Groups

Ralph Nader - Ran for president as Green Party candidate in 1996 and 2000 and as independent in 2004

  • Foreign Policy Interest Groups
    • Council on Foreign Relations
    • American-Israel Political Action Committee
  • Public Sector Interest Groups
    • National Governors Association
    • National League of Cities
    • National Educational Association

Characteristics and Power of Interest Groups

  • Collective Action: Refers to how groups form and organize to pursue their goals or objectives, including how to get individuals and groups to participate and cooperate.
  • Public Choice: Synonymous with “collective action.” Public choice specifically studies how government officials, politicians, and voters respond to positive and negative incentives.

Characteristics and Power of Interest Groups

  • Size and Resources
      • Incentive to participate
  • Cohesiveness
  • Leadership
  • Techniques
    • Publicity and Mass Media Appeals
    • Mass Mailing
    • Direct Contact with Government
      • Federal Register – an official document, published every weekday, listing the new and proposed regulations of executive departments and regulatory agencies. Organized groups have ready access to this to influence Congress.

- Inspirational leadership can be instrumental in building


interest groups size and resources
Interest Groups: Size and Resources
  • Resources can be used to provide selective benefits, which can be used to overcome organizational barriers
  • Material benefits
  • Solidarity benefits
  • Purposive benefits

Interest Groups:Cohesiveness

Types of members in an organization

People who are members in name only

People intensely involved with the group

Small number of formal members


Leadership Profile

Marian Wright Edelman: Lobbyist for the Poor

  • Founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund
  • Founded the Washington Research Project

Bruce S. Gordon

  • In 2005 elected the president and CEO of the NAACP
  • Successful businessman who was named one of the “50 most Powerful Black Executives” in 2002 by Fortune magazine

Characteristics and Power of Interest Groups

  • Techniques (continued)
    • Litigation
      • Amicus curiae (“friends of the court”)briefs – filed by an individual or organization to present arguments in addition to those presented by the immediate parties to a case.
    • Election Activities
    • Forming a Political Party
    • Cooperative Lobbying
  • Protest
  • Candidate Support

The Influence of Lobbyists

  • Who are the Lobbyists?
  • A person or persons employed by and acting for an organized interest group or corporation to try to influence policy decisions and positions in the executive and legislative branches.
  • What do Lobbyists Do?
  • Engage in activities aimed at influencing public officials, especially legislators and the policies they enact. Lobbyists primarily provide money for campaigns.

The Iron Triangle


The Influence of Lobbyists

Who Are the Lobbyists?

  • Lobbyists are former public servants.
  • Lobbyists are experienced in government.
  • Lobbyists often go to work for one of the interests they dealt with while in government.

What Do Lobbyists Do?

  • Many lobbyists participate in issue networks or relationships among interest groups, congressional committees, subcommittees, and government agencies that share a common policy concern.
  • Interest groups provide money for incumbents.
  • Interest groups provide information of two important types.

The Influence of Lobbyists

What Do Lobbyists Do? (cont.)

  • Interest groups sometimes attempt to influence legislators and regulators by going directly to the people and urging them to contact public officials.

Money and Politics

Interest groups seek to influence politics and public policy by spending money on elections in several ways.

  • to candidates for their election campaigns, especially in contested races.
  • to political parties.
  • to other interest groups.
  • to the members of their group, including employees.

Money and Politics

  • The Growth of Political Action CommitteesPACs
    • PACs – the political arm of an interest group that is legally entitled to raise funds on a voluntary basis from members, stockholders, or employees in order to contribute to favored candidates or political parties.
  • Types of PACs:
  • Corporations
  • Trade and health organizations
  • Labor unions
  • Ideological organizations

Money and Politics

Political Action Committees (cont.)

  • More recently, elected officials have begun to form their own PACs called Leadership PACs.
  • Leaderships PACs are formed by an officeholder who collects contributions from individuals and other PACs and then makes contributions to other candidates and political parties.
  • PACs are important not only because they contribute such a large share of the money congressional candidates raise for their campaigns but also because they contribute so disproportionately to incumbents.

Professional Associations - PACs That Gave the Most to during the 2007-2008 election cycle (millions of dollars)


PAC amount Democrats Republicans

Operating Engineers Union 2.03 86% 14%

International Brotherhood of 1.79 98 2

Electrical Worker

AT&T 1.78 38 62

National Association of Realtors 1.76 59 41

Machinists-Aerospace Workers 1.48 97 3

American Association for Justice 1.48 97 3

American Bankers Association 1.45 40 60

National Beer Wholesalers 1.41 52 48


Laborers Union 1.38 93 7

International Association of 1.32 75 25

Fire Fighters

Source: Center for Responsive Politics based on data released by the Federal Elections

Commission, April 28, 2008


PAC Contributions to Congressional Candidates


Contributions to Candidates for U.S. Congress, 1975–2008

(in Millions).


Money and Politics

Political Action Committees (cont.)

  • The law limits the amount of money that PACs, like individuals, can contribute to any single candidate in an election cycle.
  • The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) doubled individual contribution limits and mandated that they increase with inflation while leaving PAC contribution limits unchanged.

Other Modes of Electioneering

  • Another way interest groups can influence the outcome of elections is by persuading their employees, members, or stockholders to vote in a way consistent with the interests of the group.

Other Modes of Electioneering (cont.)

  • Until the 2004 election cycle, interest groups and individuals could avoid the contribution limitation to political parties by contributing so-called soft money to political parties.
  • Soft money is money raised in unlimited amounts by political parties for party-building purposes.
  • Issue Ads: Interest groups could also help fund so-called issue ads supporting or opposing candidates as long as the ads did not use certain words.

Independent Expenditures

  • The Supreme Court has ruled that individuals, groups, and parties can spend unlimited amounts in campaigns for or against candidates as long as they operate independently from the candidates. When an individual, group, or party does so, they are making an independent expenditure.

Money and Politics

Campaigning Through Other Groups

  • Interest groups found a way to circumvent disclosure and contribution limits through issue advocacy.
  • Use of ads that avoided the words “vote for” or “elect” but which were clearly for one candidate

In this image from one of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s television advertisements, then-presidential nominee John Kerry’s patriotism and Vietnam War record are called into question.


How Much Do Interest Groups Influence Elections and Legislation?

  • Because PACs give more money to incumbents, challengers have difficulty funding their campaigns and have to rely more on individual contributors.
  • Mass-membership organizations fail to mobilize their full membership in elections, while they can effectively mobilize when their interests are directly attacked.
  • Only a fraction of any candidates funds come from a single group.
  • It is debatable how much campaign contributions affect elections.
  • There is no guarantee that money produces a payoff in legislation.

The Effectiveness of Interest Group Activity in Elections

  • Tendency of PACs to give money to incumbents has meant that challengers face real difficulties in getting their campaigns funded.
  • “Too often, members’ first thought is not what is right or what they believe, but how it will affect fundraising. Who, after all, can seriously contend that a $100,000 donation does not alter the way one thinks about--and quite possibly votes on--an issue?” - Former U. S. Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY)

How Much Do Interest Groups Influence Elections and Legislation?

Curing the Mischiefs of Faction:

  • Regulating lobbying
  • Regulating political money
  • Serious campaign finance reform began in the 1970s with the Federal Election Campaign Act (1973)
  • Under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, the definition of a lobbyist was expanded to include part-time lobbyists, those who deal with congressional staff or executive branch agencies, and those who represent foreign-owned companies and foreign entities.

Curing the Mischiefs of Faction–Two Centuries Later

The 2002 Campaign Finance Reforms

  • In 1992, President George H.W. Bush vetoed a bill.
  • Increased momentum with Sen. John McCain and Enron collapse.
  • The Effects of Regulation
  • Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 signed by George W. Bush limiting soft money and PAC contributions.

Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act

  • Passed in 2002 to update FECA of 1973.
  • Outlaws use of soft money.
  • Limits individual and political action committee funds.
  • Political parties become larger players.
  • Allows donations from “leadership PACs.”
  • Does not regulate use of personal money.
  • Regulates the use of public and matching funds.

Contribution Limits


Curing the Mischiefs of Faction–Two Centuries Later

2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act

  • Bans gifts, toughens disclosure, increases time limits.

Other Attempts: 1978 Ethics in Government Act


________ is an example of a public interest group.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored people (NAACP)

Planned Parenthood

Chambers of Commerce

National Education Association


PACs that collect contributions from a number of individuals and present them as a single package to a candidate engage in the practice of ________.



Giving soft money

Influence peddling


Ralph Nader, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the NAACP have depended heavily upon ______ to influence public policy.

  • campaign contributions
  • persuasion
  • direct action
  • litigation

The 2002 campaign finance reform law bans

  • Hard money
  • Soft money
  • PACs
  • Funny money

According to the 2002 law, how much can an individual contribute to a federal candidate in the general election?

  • $1,000
  • $2,000
  • $4,000
  • $10,000